Sir Neville Howse VC

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Sir Neville Howse, Mayor of Orange 1914, 1921

HOWSE, Neville Reginald

Service no: Major General [1]

Place of birth: Stogursey, Somerset, England, 26 October 1863

Address: Suma, Ophir Road, Orange

Occupation: Medical practitioner

Next of kin: Evelyn Howse (wife), Suma, Ophir Road, Orange

Date of enlistment: 18 August 1914

Place of enlistment: N/A

Age at enlistment: 50

Fate: Embarked Orvieto, Melbourne, 22 October 1914. Appointed Colonel, ADMS, 1st Australian Division, 28 December 1914. Appointed DDNS, Australian & NZ Army Corps, 11 October 1915. Appointed Surgeon General AIF Headquarters, London, 1 Jan 1917. Returned to Australia 21 January 1920. Appointment terminated Sydney, 31 May 1920.

Date of death: 19 September 1930, London

Buried: Kensal Green Cemetery, London

Neville Reginald Howse was born on 26 October 1863 in Stogursey, Somerset. The son of Dr Alfred Howse, he studied medicine at the London Hospital. He emigrated to Australia for health reasons and from 1889 to 1895 practised in Taree. He then returned to England to further his surgical studies. In 1898 he returned to Australia and in the following year he bought Dr Van Someren’s practice in Orange. Early in 1900 he volunteered to serve in the Boer War in South Africa as Surgeon-Lieutenant to the NSW Lancers. On 24 July 1900 he was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour after rescuing a wounded comrade under heavy fire and bringing him to safety. Howse was the first Australian to be awarded the Victorian Cross, the highest award for acts of bravery in wartime. In 1905 he married Evelyn Pilcher, the daughter of George de Vial Pilcher of Orange. They had five children.

Howse was one of the first people in Orange to volunteer for service in WWI, even though by that time he was aged 50. He was Mayor of Orange at the time. After a brief interval in New Guinea, he served at the Gallipoli landings as Assistant Director of Medical Services, supervising the evacuation of the wounded. In November 1915 he was appointed Director of Medical Services for the Australian Army Medical Corps, based in London but making frequent visits to the front in France. He reorganised the Field Ambulance and advised the Minister of Defence on the return of wounded soldiers. Honours were showered on him: In July 1915 he was appointed CB (Companion of the Order of the Bath); in January 1917 he was promoted to Major-General and appointed KCB (Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath); In 1919 he was appointed KCMG (Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George) and Knight of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

Howse briefly returned to his medical practice in Orange and was Mayor for part of 1921. His appointment as Director-General of Medical Services in Melbourne once again put paid to his Local Government ambitions. In November 1922 he was elected National Party Member for Calare. He was a delegate to the fourth assembly of the League of Nations in 1923. During his time in parliament Howse held several portfolios: from January 1925 to April 1927 Howse was Minister for Defence and Health and Minister in charge of Repatriation. In February 1928 he again became Minister for Health and Repatriation and also for Home and Territories. He lost his seat in Parliament in the 1929 election. Howse continued his support of returned servicemen and worked hard to improve public health in Australia. He established one of the world’s first radium banks in 1928 and helped to found the Federal Health Council in 1925 and the College of Surgeons of Australasia in 1928.

In 1930 Sir Neville travelled to England for medical treatment. He died of cancer on 19 September 1930 and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London, survived by his wife Evelyn, two sons and three daughters.

Neville Howse was a legend in the Australian medical fraternity. Dr F A Maguire wrote of his service in war and in peace:

As a soldier, General Howse was the embodiment of the spirit of service. He never spared himself any exertion to carry out his duty. His first thoughts were always for the health of the troops. That they should be housed as well as circumstances would permit, and cared for in sanitation, food and clothing at the highest possible standard was always his foremost thought. Throughout Australia there are hundreds of medical men who bear most kindly memories of one whose personality radiated geniality, who was ready to recognise merit, who was most kindly and approachable by anyone who had need of advice, whose standard of duty and personal service was of the highest, and who never asked anyone to do anything he was not prepared to do himself or to go anywhere where he himself was not prepared to go.

Sir Neville is commemorated on the Holy Trinity Church Orange Honour Roll and the Orange Golf Club Honour Roll.

  • Edwards, Elisabeth 2011, In sickness and in health: how medicine helped shape Orange's history, Orange City Council, Orange NSW

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